Xhaka………right player, wrong place?
The title is confusing, but I’m not saying we should sell him.
I don’t think he has been stellar since he joined us.
However, he is a good player, and it’s possible that his billing has been off. He’s not the Swiss Vieira, nor the Arsenal Dembele/Wanyama/Kante. He’s his own player, person, and has his own skills.
And it’s possible that we are not utilising them to the best of our ability as a team, and a club.
Hard man saviour
When he joined, he came with the capacity to be the “hard man” in midfield that we desperately required. For years, it was said we were soft in the middle, and Xhaka was like a supposed manna from Heaven.
But was he? Or is he now? He had some sending-off incidents in the 16/17 season that reinforced his “hard man” persona. But then since then, this has abated, and he has become a football equivalent of Joe Montana. For those who don’t know, Montana is a legendary gridiron quarterback from the 1970s/80s.
The 2017 Cup Final and the recent Everton/Swansea games, (reports here at the Arsenal roundup) are sound instances of his ability to pick a pass and spray the ball around. This I believe is his true game, and via this provided a “pre-assist” to Kolasinac for Ramsey’s goal.
So then he’s not the hard man Vieira reinvigoration. So how do we best utilise him?
He’s not a box to box mid, though he is akin to Pirlo in his Juve heyday. He is a deep lying playmaker, who is strong on the ball, but not necessarily tough tackling and…well like Vieira. Vieira excelled at short passing and strong tackling, whilst Xhaka is more of a long distributor. He picks passes to provide long-distance width, to either Alexis or Ozil as the two support striker positions, or to the wing-backs.
He thus cannot play solely at the base of the midfield, and requires support. Ramsey’s place, despite his erratic form, is required due to his goal-scoring and ability to link with the attack. This may be an unpopular view for some, though I would really favour Coquelin in addition.
We can see here that if Coq remained in a deep anchorman role, with Xhaka and Ramsey ahead of him, we can attain a better midfield balance to ensure that all three players’ strengths can be complementary.
Coq is limited, granted. But not every player can be an Alexis, with great pace, skill, and determination. A team comprises players with complementary strengths by definition, and if Ramsey can come back in when we defend, this can help Xhaka ensure his strengths are better utilised.
It does mean sacrificing Ozil, though this is not about dissing or disrespecting him. It’s about see how well our team gels and fits.
An alternative is a 4321, in which Coq still occupies a deep anchor man role, though supported by Ramsey and Xhaka.
So with some slight alterations, we can get the best of Xhaka, and better enable the use of wing-backs in our system.
Granit Xhaka is perhaps then a misunderstood player, and to get the best out of him, our manager needs to ensure his strong distributive skills are maximised.